Chinese tourists are big business! This blog post will introduce you to Chinese tourism statistics and help you create a successful tourism marketing strategy. Chinese tourists have changed their habits over the past few years and understanding their needs will help create a successful marketing campaign which in turn means they will refer your business to their friends and family.
The emergence of an affluent middle class and relaxed movement restrictions for mainland Chinese tourists has supported the boom. As of early 2018, 66 countries and regions adopted their visa restrictions, allowing Chinese tourists to easily travel to places outside China.
By 2020 it is expected that outbound trips by Chinese tourists will reach over 160 million. By 2023, it is estimated that 20% of world travel will be undertaken by Chinese tourists! China, when measured by trips and expenditures is the world’s largest outbound travel market!
A Chinese tourist spends more per trip than any other global traveler, so tapping into this market could be key to your success! In this blog, we’ll cover the preferred destinations, myths to avoid, and 7 methods for attracting Chinese tourists to your business!
Table of Contents
Where Does The Chinese Tourist want to Travel?
A total of 149.72 million outbound trips were made by Chinese tourists in 2018 according to the China Daily. While this is an impressive statistic that might make some tourism marketers drool, the number of domestic trips taken by Chinese tourists was clocked at 5.5 billion in 2018! Domestic traveling within China is popular, and with improvements to infrastructure and investing in tourism sectors, the market has never been better.
International tourism is seeing steady growth as well, and more and more countries are starting to see their share of Chinese tourists. Aside from the countries featured in this list, other countries favored by Chinese Tourists include Cambodia, The Philippines, Morocco, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, The United Kingdom, and Australia!
Top 5 Domestic Destinations For Chinese Tourists:
#1. Beijing – The Cultural (and literal) Capital of China
Beijing is known for its cultural heritage, as it is rich in architecture that has strong connections with the Chinese culture. Being the capital of China, it easily maintains its image and status as a destination for Chinese tourists from around the country.
Chinese tourists also like Beijing for the variety of food they offer. Beijing Duck is a famous dish in Chinese culture and tourists flock to popular restaurants in areas like Beixingqiao and Nanlouguxiang to eat authentic Chinese food.
The main tourist attractions in Beijing are related to Chinese history, like the Temple of Heaven, The Great Wall, and the Summer Palace. The Temple of Heaven, in particular, has become one of Beijing’s most prized landmarks, with over 120,000 tourists visiting the site in a single day during the National Day holiday in 2018. This cultural heritage attracts many Chinese tourists as well as international tourists to Beijing.
#2. Shanghai – Where East Meets West in Mainland China
Shanghai is a close substitute for an overseas vacation because of how advanced and westernized the city has become. Shanghai is the largest center of commerce and finance in Mainland China.
This city has the highest concentration of foreigners of any city in China, and Shanghai has added many foreigner-friendly restaurants and activities to serve them, making it a bit more unique and diverse than other Chinese cities.
Shanghai’s attractions include the French Concession, The Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Nanjing Road, The Bund, and more! Shanghai’s nightlife and dining scene is also world-renowned with famous clubs and restaurants for when the kids are asleep!
#3. Hainan – The Chinese Hawaii
Hainan Island is the Chinese version of Hawaii and the southernmost point on the Chinese mainland. White beaches, water activities, and amusement parks are all present on this tiny island. It boasts affordable hotels and upscale resorts, catering to every type of Chinese family. The Chinese are also drawn to the tropical weather which for some living in chilly cities like Harbin, is a huge bonus!
However, if you’re planning a trip here, be aware that it gets notoriously crowded during the warmer months and Chinese holidays!
#4. Lijiang – An Ancient Town In the Foothills of the Himalayas
This town was the first Chinese ancient town to be developed for cultural travel. It was a pivotal location on the Ancient Southern Silk Road linking Burma, Shangri-La County, Tibet, Persia, and the Mediterranean Sea. It is said to be a perfect balance of historical sites, snowy mountains, lakes, and ethnic minority cultures. It is also full of restaurants and bars with a very active nightlife scene.
Lijiang is also a part of a common trek tourists take through Yunnan province that covers Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La in the foothills of the Himalayas!
#5. Zhangjiajie – The Inspiration for Avatar
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was the attraction that inspired the film Avatar. It is known as “Mother Nature’s Oxygen Bar” thus, for those Chinese tourists who are living in highly polluted areas, it allows the lungs to have a much-needed detox.
Zhangjiajie has gained international popularity due to Avatar and is now a popular destination for international tourists as well. The area is famous for its Karst-type mountains which are famous throughout China and the world. It’s also known for the glass bridge between mountains allowing tourists to see all the way down!
Top 5 International Destinations for Chinese Tourists
#1. Hong Kong – The Chinese Shopping Heaven
Being one of the closest destinations with an overlapping culture, Hong Kong is the preferred destination for Chinese tourists to travel to during breaks. Recently, transportation to Hong Kong has become more convenient for mainland tourists with the addition of a new high-speed rail. Hong Kong is popular for a variety of reasons, with the most popular being shopping as it has no sales tax!
Although numbers have been dipping in recent years, Hong Kong remains one of the top destinations for tourism particularly during “Golden Week”.
#. Japan – A Little Something For Everyone
The number of Chinese tourists traveling to Japan is expected to increase from 2.4 million to 11 million by 2020. Japan is a very popular destination for Chinese tourists as it has a lot of attractions specifically targeting tourists – it also has around 3 well-known theme parks with featured rides.
Japan is very popular due to its incredibly unique culture and influence on pop culture and various different subcultures. With entire areas like Akihabara catering to those interested in the anime subculture, Japan offers unique experiences for every kind of tourist.
Apart from the adrenaline-packed theme park industry and tourist spots like Mt. Fuji, Japan is also known for its shopping! Japan is the home of many brands that Chinese tourists enjoy such as BAPE, Muji, Supreme, and Uniqlo.
#3. Thailand – Food & Relaxation on the Cheap
One of the most popular locations for Chinese tourists is Thailand. Chinese people find it easier to blend into Thai culture and enjoy the weather more than most Chinese regions. Thailand has a well-developed tourist infrastructure making for an easy, relaxing holiday.
Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang-Mai are all incredibly popular destinations for Chinese tourists. There are many direct flights to Thailand from China and the country is many degrees cheaper than China, keeping it as one of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists.
#4. Singapore – A Safe And Easy Trip For Chinese Tourists
There is a large population of Mandarin Chinese speakers in Singapore which creates an attraction within itself – let alone the culture and food! With Chinese tourist’s number one priority when traveling being safety, there is no surprise that Singapore tops the list of places they travel too.
According to the Singapore Tourism Board, 2.86 million Chinese tourists visited Singapore in 2017. Chinese tourists also spend an average of US$446 per day in Singapore!
#5. Vietnam – The Other Thailand For Chinese Tourists
South Korea and Chinese account for 53% of Vietnam’s annual tourism. Vietnam has an extremely easy visa application for Chinese people which prompts Chinese tourists to book holidays there. During Chinese holidays, over 5000 Chinese tourists arrive per day in Vietnam!
Like Thailand, Vietnam is also comparatively cheaper as compared to China making it a popular destination for lower to middle-class Chinese tourists. Vietnam is also developing rapidly, making it more tourist-friendly and a destination for international businesses.
The Rise of The New Chinese Tourist! What do They Want While Abroad?
Finding out what Chinese tourists want to do whilst on holidays is vital in creating a successful tourism marketing strategy. Without knowing what they want, you will be blindly marketing to myths & stereotypes that might not correspond with the truth.
Chinese have only recently begun traveling abroad in the last two decades as the Chinese economy grew and disposable incomes increased. While they attained a rather notorious reputation for swarming tourist destinations, the Chinese tourist has become savvier in recent years and this will likely only continue as the population becomes more familiar with international travel.
China’s broad and diverse national group means varies needs need to be met – offering plenty of opportunities for effective marketing! Some of the most popular search terms used by Chinese tourists on social media and forums include:
- Island destinations;
- Foodie holidays;
- Nature and exploration;
- Family fun; and
- Outdoor sports.
There are a few myths that need to be debunked when it comes to looking at Chinese tourists. By combatting these – you will be on your way to creating a successful tourism marketing strategy.
The Many Myths of The Chinese Tourism Boom
#1 Chinese Tourists Myth – Adventure
One of the biggest shocks to most is that Chinese tourists love adventure and adrenaline-seeking activities. Typically seen as shy and highly conscious of safety, Chinese tourists have begun to develop a thirst for adventure over the last decade.
Skydiving in New Zealand, for example, has become incredibly popular with Chinese tourists, to the point that the supply of sky-diving operators has not been able to keep up with the demand created by Chinese tourists. Those in the adventure tourism industry should begin expanding their marketing efforts to capture young Chinese millennials and Gen-Zers seeking adventure.
#2 Chinese Tourists Myth – Shopping
When you think of Chinese tourists – for most people it’s shopping that comes to mind (alongside huge tour groups but we’ll come onto that next!)
While 47% of Chinese outbound tourists consider shopping an essential part of their holiday, the shopping craze of earlier years has died down a bit. This percentage is only going to decrease with luxury brands realizing the importance of lowering prices in Mainland China. Chinese people simply do not need to travel overseas anymore to get luxury brands at discounted prices.
Most Chinese travelers are indeed unlikely to go on a trip without including some shopping in their itineraries, but they are moving away from tours which simply cart them from one shopping district to another.
#3 Chinese Tourists Myth – Landmarks
Visiting landmarks is no longer the number-one reason for traveling to a given destination. Most Chinese tourists have already been to famous landmarks and are looking for more than just taking selfies on their trips with landmarks. 70% of respondents who went to Southeast Asia prioritized unplugging from their stressful urban life and relaxing with family and friends rather than taking photos of landmarks.
Research shows that Chinese tourists have a more open mind and want local experiences (61%), whether it’s taking in local culture and art or visiting niche destinations.
#4 Chinese Tourists Myth – Only eat Chinese food
Chinese travelers have a palate that extends beyond their local cuisine with fine dining becoming more highly valued among certain Chinese traveler groups.
The Chinese are ready and willing to expand their cuisine choices. Contrary to the myth that they prefer their own cuisine; Chinese tourists go to certain destinations specifically to try the food. Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are known for their cuisines and are popular choices for Chinese tourists looking to gain new dining experiences.
#5 Chinese Tourists Myth – Apps are the Preferred Booking Method
The assumed consensus is that Chinese tourist prefer researching or booking travel through apps but in reality, they are not all that popular. Research has found that even Millennials and Gen Z, who heavily use a range of mobile apps, prefer purchasing through online travel agency websites (OTA):
- 52% selected OTAs as their top choice for travel information
- 15% selected OTA booking apps over websites
- 3% selected International Booking Apps
Brands need to conduct careful research into this area as they play a limited role in moving customers along their decision journey. After research into a specific sector, companies may find that investing in apps may not be as beneficial as once hoped.
The most popular mode of research and inspiration ones from family and friends – with 57% of Chinese tourists favoring this method. Word of mouth prevails as the most successful marketing tool in this instance. It is vital to impress the Chinese tourists you currently have to attract more.
#6 Chinese Tourists Myth – Tour Guides
We all have that image of Chinese tourists – thousands of them descending from coaches, selfie sticks and peace signs at the ready …
Well, that image is slowly becoming just that, an image in our heads. Chinese tourists have begun to stop traveling in groups, with 70% of them being free and independent travelers (FIT) in 2018, the remaining 30% are in groups.
As travelers complete more outbound trips their confidence grows, empowering them to go further, for longer and alone. In the next decade, long-haul destinations will take a large portion of the market from destinations in greater China – eventually representing half of the outbound travel market!
There are two areas where tour guides are appreciated: with the elderly and when traveling to Europe. Only 27% of Chinese tourists over 60 years of age would feel comfortable traveling alone.
Further, going to Europe also provides a language barrier and extreme cultural differences – having a tour guide can eliminate this can make Chinese tourists feel more relaxed and welcome. However, this phenomenon is unique to Europe as guided tour groups are not as popular in North America or Oceania.
#7 Chinese Tourists Myth – Older Generation
The final myth is that older Chinese generations do not want to travel internationally. Typically, older Chinese tourists have travelled domestically throughout China but over the past few years, there has seen a seismic shift in the Chinese tourism market. The number of Chinese citizens aged 60+ is over 202 million and will continue to rise year-on-year.
A survey conducted by Ctrip found that 87% of participants age 50 and older stated that they planned to travel internationally that year. Although they are more price-sensitive than the younger more adventurous Chinese, they are still willing to spend during their travels.
Generally, the outbound tourism industry fails to cater to senior citizens, representing an opportunity for tourism marketers. Creating tailored services for seniors can create a lasting impression with a huge population of Chinese travelers.
7 Tips For Developing a China Tourism Marketing Strategy
To successfully market to Chinese tourists – tourism businesses must employ a multi-channel marketing strategy involving China’s own key social media platforms – so don’t try to rely on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as they aren’t available in China!
- Chinese tourists tend to book their trips 3 months in advance;
- Those booking the trips are mainly female and upper or middle class; and
- Destinations with a direct flight link to their own city are preferred.
Chinese tourists aren’t looking for travel ideas or booking their flights on traditional platforms. An entire online ecosystem has been allowed to grow apart from the rest of the world due to the interference of the Great Firewall. Chinese tourists aren’t booking flights or looking for hotels on websites most of us are familiar with, like Expedia, Kayak, or Tripadvisor. They are also not looking at pictures or advertisements on Western social media platforms. So, how do you attract Chinese tourists?
While most businesses adopt a multi-channel marketing strategy, many overlook the almost exclusively Chinese channels, which can be a huge mistake considering that the number of outbound Chinese tourists has been steadily increasing year on year. These channels should almost certainly be used in your tourism marketing strategy if you hope to attract Chinese customers.
#1 Tourism Marketing Strategy – Social Media
With any type of marketing, social media is the No.1 strategy for most companies. It enables businesses to come across as less intrusive and creates a personalized feel for the consumer. Social media encourages sharing posts and/or pictures with your friends thus aiding the spread of word of mouth advertisement.
Creating a strong image on social media platforms will benefit your company – but it doesn’t stop at simply having a presence! Your company should respond to user comments and posts, helping them where you can on your service/product and offer advice on the country when relevant. By interacting with customers, you will make lasting impressions with potential customers. It gives the impression that you value their opinions and care about them – which hopefully you do!
#2 Tourism Marketing Strategy – Forums
A good way to start preliminary research is through Chinese forums. However, it may prove slightly difficult as you will need to speak Mandarin. There are two ways you can go about reading the discussions:
- Find an old friend who speaks Mandarin ask them to translate the post
- Google translate!!!
– Although some phrases will be disjointed and unreadable, any amount of information is better than nothing!
The most popular travel-based discussion and review forums in China are:
- Mafengwo; and
- DaoDao (Trip Advisor).
Don’t blindly predict what Chinese tourists want, be resourceful and utilize what is already there. Linking back to the Skydiving example above, if the New Zealand company had simply done some market research they would have found that there were thousands of Chinese tourists talking about the experience and recommending it to their friends. Due to this lack of knowledge, they lost the opportunity to properly accommodate these tourists.
We even have a full-length post on Mafengwo you can check out below!
#3 Tourism Marketing Strategy – Localising Content
Simply translating your western website to Mandarin doesn’t mean you are marketing to Chinese tourists! Chinese tourists don’t usually like the same things that western tourists do, so make sure you have your Chinese tourist in mind when translating your website. Try to make sure your design and wording match Chinese preferences – simple mistakes can offend/put them off!
Your website also needs to be China friendly – it needs to be stripped of Google features such as Google maps as they won’t load in China. Chinese websites need to be hosted in Hong Kong, Macau or Mainland China so they can easily be viewed in China and load fast enough to get on Baidu’s first-page search result.
Additionally, creating an FAQ section in Mandarin could be hugely beneficial for your company if you have limited/no Mandarin-speaking staff – these can help eliminate any awkward language barriers faced between you and your customers.
Another form of localizing your service comes in the form of payment. Chinese tourists, on the whole, do not use Western credit cards and don’t like carrying large sums of cash.
While hard to set up, the rewards you will reap from accepting Alipay, WeChat Wallet and China UnionPay will definitely make the process worth it. By offering an easier way to accept payments, you are opening the doors to high-spending customers.
Want to know which payment is better for your business? Check out our blog below:
Finally, use WeChat QR codes! These will help you stay connected with your customers and also act as a platform for them to gain additional information about your product/services. WeChat QR codes are great for getting data easily from your customers allowing you to contact them again in the future!
All these little things add up and can make for a truly pleasant experience for your Chinese guests if you invest in them. Even little things like having decent wifi, subscribing to Chinese newspapers or TV channels, or printing out some basic Chinese brochures can lead to good reviews and return customers!
#4 Tourism Marketing Strategy – Chinese Holidays
Chinese people do not have the same holidays as Westerners. They have a vast number of public holidays throughout the year but there are two main holidays that every company wishing to draw Chinese tourists should be aware of.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year occurs in early in the year, usually in the months of January-February. Nearly all Chinese citizens receive a full week off during the Chinese New Year holidays. While most typically travel back to their hometowns to be with their families, many are now beginning to travel abroad during this period.
This is a major break with tradition, with one traveler telling the SCMP “In my dictionary, outings during the Spring Festival are something akin to a taboo,” he said. “During the most important festival in China, all we need to do is stay with the parents and relatives at home, to enjoy a family reunion. We are not supposed to do anything else.”
However, the trend speaks for itself, as more than 6.5 million Chinese tourists were estimated to have traveled abroad during the holiday in 2019! With Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, and Singapore being among the most popular destinations!
Chinese National Day is the most popular time for Chinese tourists to travel both domestically and abroad for leisure purposes. Unlike Chinese New Year, where many Chinese still feel bound by tradition and won’t consider traveling, National Day is seen almost universally as a holiday for travel and leisure.
Ctrip estimated that more than 700 million people were traveling during the National Day holiday in 2018, with 122 million traveling on the first day of the holiday according to Xinhua News!
It is estimated that 37,000 tourists visited Badaling Great Wall on Oct 1, a 39.6% year-on-year increase. Any thoughts? pic.twitter.com/hBa7Oz2Gvv
— People’s Daily, China (@PDChina) October 2, 2018
For a complete list of China’s public holidays in 2019-2020 click here!
Ramping up your promotional material for these periods and tailoring your website to reflect the celebrations will be successful when attracting Chinese tourists. Making them feel included and understood its vital in gaining their trust.
#5 Tourism Marketing Strategy – Don’t forget about the Chinese already in the country!
There are over 130,000 Chinese students studying in the UK alone, all with family and friends who are eager to hear their travel stories and recommendations. These exchange students have access to Chinese and Western social media – making them a vital tool for organic brand growth.
Most, if not all universities and colleges will have a form of a Chinese student society. Making connections with those on the committee and the presidents can help to promote your brand and give you access to Chinese millennials in an inexpensive manner.
A good example of this can be seen with China Travel Outbound and their student VIP incentive:
“Once or twice a year, we plan a student VIP trip where we contact the Presidents of Chinese Societies from different universities, asking them if they’d like to embark on a trip highlighting different attractions, hotels, and restaurants in Europe. This is a great marketing initiative since Chinese Student Societies have their own social media groups and platforms where information is seen and shared.”
#6 Tourism Marketing Strategy – Online Travel Agencies (OTA)
The biggest names in the OTA industry in China for 2019 are: Alitrip (Fliggy), CNCN.com, Ctrip,eLong, Lvmama, LY.com, Qunar.com, and Tuniu. For some reason all Chinese OTAs seem to be animal-themed, but if it works why not!
This market is very competitive but that doesn’t mean advertising is cheap! Ad space on these websites is extremely limited, often taken by big-name hotels and tour services, making it difficult for small businesses to access the paid advertising. It is vital however that you do list your hotel/service to access their online booking features. Make sure there is also a booking feature on your own website too.
Travel agents are still the preferred mode of booking holidays for Chinese tourists, even FITs mostly book through online travel agencies. Collaborating with OTA’s is vital for them to sell your destination, activity or hotel. Easy ways to connect with them include trade shows or simply finding the right contact on their respective websites. By working together, you are ensuring your brand is in the best possible place for it to be marketing to Chinese tourists.
#7 Tourism Marketing Strategy – Search Engine Marketing
Being present on Chinas largest search engine Baidu is extremely important for successfully marketing to Chinese tourists. The SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) process is different in China, you need to use alternative techniques when compared to western search engines like Google. If you do not have a presence on Chinese search engines, Chinese tourists simply will not know who you are and may not trust your company.
Just like Google, Baidu offers a wide variety of advertising options for businesses. Google has simplified the process of advertising to the point that even small businesses have been able to take advantage of its features. Advertising on Baidu, however, requires users to navigate a sea of red tape, making it incredibly difficult for non-Chinese businesses.
Baidu requires a great deal of information, in order to keep in line with Chinese government regulations, making the process quite unfriendly when compared to Google. Although using it can be difficult, it is certainly one of the most effective methods for advertising in China.
If a user can’t find anything about your company at all it can come up as a red flag, potentially costing you business. While you don’t need to invest thousands of dollars to rank for competitive keywords on the search engine you will want to at least have a basic presence on the platform. We’ve written a really handy guide for Baidu SEO you can see here or at the link below.
Nearly everyone in the tourism industry wants a piece of the Chinese tourist pie. However, attracting them to your business isn’t as easy as many would make it seem to be. The Chinese consumer is undergoing drastic changes as the Chinese economy continues to develop and more and more citizens gain exposure to the outside world.
If you’re looking to target this unique market be sure to stay up on the latest travel trends in China and ensure you have at least a basic digital presence on Chinese social media and the OTAs.
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